Rising number of houseboats rings alarm bells; a study to find out lake’s carrying capacity

How much is too much? Alarmed over the swelling number of houseboats punting on Vembanad Lake, the State Department of Ports has commissioned a study to find out the carrying capacity of the lake.

The Director of Ports Jacob Thomas said the study began three weeks ago, and was being done by the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management in Kozhikode.

He said the study findings would help build an action plan to protect the lake from pollution from houseboats and other vessels carrying around tourists.

The study covers Vembanad Lake, south and north of Thanneermukkam bund, he said. The study will take a year, spread over three seasons.

Mr. Thomas said there were around 1,000 houseboats and vessels ferrying tourists in operation north of the bund and an equal number in the waters south of the bund.

The houseboat industry, however, is fast coming of age. At the on-going Kerala Travel Mart 2012, elegant and chic houseboats grabbed a lot of attention.

Jose Mathew, managing director of Rainbow Cruises, which has hosted a large number of celebrities, said houseboats operators were now more aware of their responsibilities. He pointed to a new boat from his company that was rolled out on Friday. The new boat, he said, was 100 per cent compliant with the rules and regulations binding the industry.

The tourism industry is buoyed by the boom in domestic tourist arrivals. Mr. Mathew said he was optimistic about the new season as he got some robust enquiries. However, costly air travel had scared away foreign tourists, especially from Europe, he said.

Tomy Pulickattil of Pulickattil Houeboats, a veteran in the industry, has always hit the market with innovations — like swimming pools on houseboats and an all-women crew for houseboats for women holiday-makers.

He said number of foreign tourists flying down to Kerala had dried up. The charter operators in Kerala had nearly wound up their operations here. However, he said domestic tourists, including those from within Kerala, had taken a fascination to houseboats so that about 25 per cent of holiday-makers in the State now use houseboats for spending leisure time. Mr. Pulickattil said corporate houses were now using houseboats to host conferences and meetings, combining business with pleasure economically.

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